Eye-Tracking Smartphone UI: Yes and No

Came across this article ‘The Implications Of The Interface That Watches You” today. Eye-tracking as a new way of user interaction is intriguing, but after some thoughts, I think it’s very limiting:


Image from: TechCrunch.com

1.  Eye movement is a’ subconscious’ behavior, hard to control.

When we move our hands, our brain needs to command it to do it and we’re aware of it. Eye movement is different. We do it unconsciously. We automatically blink when we read for a long time. We move our eye balls up and down when browsing the web without thinking about it. Now if an app or smartphone tracks our eye movements and makes the app responding to it, all these random moves will start to mess things up. User will grow nervous about their eye movements, adding HUGE pressure to the experience. A good app design should try as much as possible to NOT make user think. This is making user think MORE about something they never have to think about (eye movement) before. Totally wrong.

2. Dynamically changing UI screws location memory

The idea of changing the user interface based on people’s eye movement is even more absurd. Location memory is in the center part of user experience design. Human brains remember where things are and  it makes it easy for them to find it next time they want to use it. Dynamically changing where all the buttons and other UI elements are? User will become utterly confused as where things are.

3. Eye-tracking as data gathering tool is creepy but useful

So what is the better way of using eye-tracking technology? Simply put, using the data only. Quietly gathering eye movements data without messing around the UI, and then use the gathered data for better profile building, ads targeting etc. is actually a solid idea. Before, all the profile building technology stops at search and clicks. Google knows what website you clicks or searches, that’s how they build their targeting ads system that rakes in billions of ads dollars. But what if they can know which part of the screen get the most eye-balls? It’s definitely a step forward, both on precision and creepiness ironically.

Since camera has become so ubiquitous now, technologies like facial recognizing, eye tracking, gesture tracking will trickle down to our laptop and smartphones. Give or take, welcome to an era of new interactions.


Dropbox Pre-install on Samsung Android Smartphones: A new life for prearranged marriage?


Image: by Dropbox

Dropbox and Samsung today announced that some Samsung new top-of-the-line devices, like Samsung Galaxy Grand, Samsung Galaxy Note, etc. will come out with Dropbox pre-installed and deep integrated. These smartphone users that activate a Dropbox account will automatically entitled for a 50GB storage plan (for only 2 years though, check here). This is also a deeper integration than merely a preload, Samsung will use Dropbox as its option for cloud storage, and OS level tweak has will be developed to enable features like thumbnail to offer the best cloud storage service without hindering user’s data plan too much.

The first thing came to mind when I got the news is :’Wow, that’s a good deal! I wish my iPhone has this kind of deal!’. Honestly, a 50Gb upgrade will be so sweet for me. I’m a long time Dropbox user sitting on merely 2.5GB of storage. I really liked their service: Simple, out-of-the-way UI style, reliable and fast quality of service, well thought out and progressive mobile strategy(their cross-platform support for one). The only downside for me is the free storage they gave me is only 2.5GB, far from enough. They’ve always have the referral program that if you recommend one friend to use it, you’ll get 250Mb storage for free, that is a cheap and viral way to expanding their subscriber base,  now they seem to find another way to expose themselves to broader audiences.

Preloaded software/services are widely considered by the mobile generation as the ‘original sin’ from desktop ‘dark age’. True that we all had our ‘good’ time with the shiny new HP laptop we bought came with one hundred kinds of ‘printing software that make your life easier!’ vaporware out of the box. We all had bad taste in our mouth when stuffed with something we don’t like or requested in the first place. But a preload software isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If the preload software is a very useful one and has solid reputation, which will add value to the entire product offering, then why not? All in all, even Apple’s mighty iOS came with quite some preloads and people seems to be OK with it. (Apple Maps anyone?) Like a pre-arranged marriage, if the girl is actually quite hot and is everything you ever wanted, who cares it’s a pre-arranged one or not? You’ll jump without a second if she appears on your Match.com hunting anyway. 😉

I believe this is a win-win-win for all parties. Samsung will provide more value to their smartphone offerings. Dropbox will reach out to more people and develop more subscribers. (Samsung sold 30millions Galaxy S3 and Dropbox only has 100 millions subscribers or so end of 2012). And for our users, who wouldn’t love a 50Gb free storage space on all your computers and mobile devices?


Giant’s regret?


Image: Nokia

Nokia has recently confirmed in an interview that they won’t rule out Android’ as a future OS option just yet. Very interesting development in the mobile industry indeed.

Some said that the move for Nokia to partner with Microsoft (which at that time had no proven success in mobile, no ecosystem strength) is a misstep in the first place. The development we saw today may just be the hard facts starting to kick in. Things might be different should Microsoft and Nokia move faster and deliver more, but for two giants like they are, I’m not surprised they haven’t  managed more.  The entire tech industry’s shift to mobile happens not only in technology front, but also in mind-set. Being mobile means you’ll have to move faster (have more products delivered per year), be more creative (some time as destructive as Apple), be more flexible (enter Samsung, with their hundreds of different types of handsets released per year), to even survive.

Having said that, I still think there’s hope for the Microsoft-Nokia duo:

1. Windows OS is unique in experience


Image: Metro UI via AnandTech

No matter how Android fans try to defend it, the Android OS offer similar if not inferior experience like iOS. But Windows  Modern UI (used to be Metro UI, they changed the term to avoid trademark problem) is totally designed from ground up to be unique and it’s a well thought out design at that. The Windows experience feels more ‘fluidly’ in using (surprise surprise!) thanks to all the smooth and cool screen transition animations. The interface is very minimalistic and easy to use, a breath of fresh air on the look and feel of the heavily-chromed Android/iOS UI and fits into Nokia’s conventional UI style quite well. Even the most die-hard Apple fan boy can’t accuse Windows Modern UI being a copycat.

2. Windows OS is patent-infringement proof

The entire industry is keeping a close eye on the ongoing Samsung’s ‘lawsuit of the century’ with Apple, and the attention is very well deserved. Because it will carve out the future shape of mobile OS landscape. If OEMs end up needing to pay a high loyalty fee to use Android OS, then suddenly Microsoft become very appealing as an alternative. Not all company has the deep pocket and thick face to go into a huge law suit war with Apple like Samsung did.

3. Scale wise, Microsoft-Nokia is the only candidate to compete with the Google-Samsung duo.


Scale still counts these days. Without Google’s influence on Internet and Samsung’s huge business machine on developing and delivering hundreds of devices per year, Android won’t be at the place they are today. To match it, similar scale is almost a must. (Look at Palm’s ‘downfall’ as a proof of this point, they have all the correct ingredients, just not big enough to push for ecosystem penetration to a tipping point. ) Combining Nokia’s market share and reputation on mobile device and Microsoft’s influence (mind share) on desktop OS, they definitely should be able to compete head to head with anyone.

Whatever Nokia or Microsoft want to do, they must act fast and don’t ever look back. Nokia might be the no.1 mobile device manufacturer and Microsoft the no.1 desktop OS, but those are history and holds very little credit on a fast paced, ever-changing mobile industry.